Some of you are going to read this and think I’ve lost my mind or relapsed, but I promise that’s not the case. All I ask is that you read this with an open mind and ask yourself why we’re accepting things the way they are and not taking back power. Frankly, I don’t even know if it’s taking back power or just changing to make things the way they’re supposed to be. As it stands, we’re waiting around for the world to change as though we have no free will or agency, and it’s really strange to think about.
The other night, I’m sitting there watching the season finale of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and it’s all about unions. Right now, there are strikes going on around the country, and there have been plenty of stories of workers trying to unionize. In this episode, John Oliver breaks down how companies try to union bust through spreading misinformation and retaliation. I have my own thoughts and opinions on this matter, but I’ll save that for another time because there’s one part of the show that really stood out to me.
I suggest you check out the full deep dive on union-busting, but towards the end, he tells the story of workers at Dish Network voting to unionize in 2009, but they’re still waiting on a contact. To me, that’s absolutely insane. I’m pretty progressive and regularly rant about how broken our system is and how we need change. But waiting a decade at Dish Network for a contract, and you’re just still working there? What the hell is happening to us?
It’s no secret that employers have all the power, and it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot since getting laid off at the beginning of September. I may write a detailed story of my experience some time, but I’ll summarize for now.
I worked my ass off for two years at this small company, and the two co-owners loved me. I regularly went above and beyond, and I received a significant raise after my first year. We survived the first year of COVID, but after losing a few clients and work slowing down, I straight up asked one of the owners, “Do we have something to worry about?” He reassured me and said we were totally fine and there was nothing to worry about. Fortunately, I have major trust issues, so I took that with a grain of salt. Within just a few months, I’m being asked to do these strange tasks to make sure everything’s organized “just in case”. I was also asked to do a lot of documentation, write some templates so anyone could look at it and know how to do my job. There was a slight alarm going off in my head because I never took sick days and they had to beg me to take some vacation days because I always showed up to work. Hell, I even worked when I’d travel and visit family. But, the owners would randomly want stuff like this, so I tried to calm my anxious mind.
Then, on September 1st, the owners ask for a quick Zoom meeting, and they let me go. They explained that we’ve lost clients, business slowed down, and they were shifting directions a little. Unfortunately, that meant my position was no longer needed in this small company of about eight people. We parted ways on good terms, and they were cool enough to give me a little severance as well. They assured me it was nothing I personally did, and it was just a result of the economy and all that.
The reason this has been replaying in my mind for the last two and a half months is that they legitimately lied and manipulated me. I asked if the company was in trouble, and they said it wasn’t. Then, in the final weeks, they knew they were going to let me go and had me get all these things in order so that they were in a good position when they did it. During COVID, one of the owners had a baby, but up until then, I was the only one with a child that I have to worry about. So, everything they did was to make sure they were in a good position even though I’m clearly the one who had the most to lose.
But the more I thought about it, this was 100% normal. What were they supposed to do? Was the boss supposed to say, “Yes, Chris. The business is failing.” or, “Hey, we’re going to have to let you go in a couple of weeks. Just wanted to give you a heads up.”? That would have been great, but I can’t think of many bosses or business owners would do that. If they did, they’d have to hope and pray that I didn’t randomly quit or start looking for another job.
The part that fucks me up is that the owners are good people. The problem is that once again, employers have all the power.
They’re such good people that I haven’t wanted to tell this story because I’m worried they might see this and feel bad, and I don’t want that. If they do read this, I do hope they think about this a little and maybe change how they do things for future employees. The reality of the situation is that they both live in Southern California in the LA area and are extremely well off. Both have houses, nice cars, and do their fair share of traveling. Financially, they are fine, and they’re going to be fine.
Me? I was fucked. I live in a $1,000/mo apartment, and I split the rent with my girlfriend. I have a son who is almost 13 that I have for half of the week, and I also pay child support. I don’t have wealthy parents, and they actually struggle to get by as well.
Update: My former employer actually called after reading this, and we had a long talk to clear some things up. I made incorrect assumptions about the business as well as the events prior to being laid off. I assumed this was due to the business not doing good, but he assured me they were being honest when they told me it was due to restructuring the business model, and they didn’t decide this weeks in advance, it was only a couple days before.
I also realized that I gave off the wrong impression, because up until being let go, this was by far the best place I worked. And when they let me go, they ensured to do it so I had one more month of health insurance to get things organized. Although they had to let me go, they did try to make it as comfortable as possible for me.
And, if you’re reading this, you may think I was pressured into making this update, but I wasn’t. In fact, when I offered, he said I didn’t need to. I made the decision to write this update because I regularly criticize people who publish misinformation and don’t correct the record, and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I also did it because I’ve never had a former employer reach out to just talk as human beings, and I respect the hell out of that and wish more employers would do that.
The only reason I took this detour to share that story is to once again reiterate that we aren’t the ones with the power, and that needs to change. My story isn’t unique. I’m just one of the millions who deal with this, and a lot of us dealt with it during the 2008 recession as well. My son was born on New Year’s Eve 2008, and within two months, I was laid off from my job after all of us employees agreed to a pay cut to stop the layoffs. Meanwhile, after all of us were laid off, the owner was still a multi-millionaire who owned multiple car dealerships, has houses across the country as well as a house in Italy.
Why are we so concerned about ensuring that the people who hold all the power maintain their secure lifestyles and refuse to make sacrifices while the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves?
I have written extensively about the myth of meritocracy and how much luck plays a role in where you end up in life. I’ve interviewed countless authors on my podcast and read dozens of books about this as well. So, trust me, I know how much is outside of our control, but I implore you to take a look at how screwed up everything is and start taking back some power. There are certain things we can 100% start doing, and now I’m going to talk about them.
At the start of this piece, I said you may think I’m crazy or relapsed, but I hope now that I’ve laid out some of the foundation, it’s lit a fire under your ass to do something.
Nobody is Coming to Save You
I can’t tell you how tired I am of so many people waiting on the government to do something. I watch a ton of news, and it’s the same thing over and over and over again. “Congress needs to do this and the President needs to do that.” “We need this or that bill to pass.” “You need to go out and vote.” “We have to raise taxes on the rich.” Trust me, each of these things are 1000% true, and I don’t want anyone to turn into a nihilist. We need to vote and pressure politicians, but that doesn’t mean we can just sit on our ass and not take action ourselves.
Societal norms don’t come from the government; it comes from you and me. Right now, we need to change how we’re acting.
Not long ago, I wrote a piece for Newsweek about Hasan Piker being this faux socialist while living in a $3 million house in LA. Hasan isn’t the only one either. On a daily basis, I rant to my girlfriend about these rich progressives pretending like they care about the less fortunate. But you ask them to not live their rich lifestyle, and immediately they say, “Well, let’s not get too crazy. Just raise my taxes.” It almost feels like they know that’s not happening any time soon so they have this easy excuse to not do anything.
Yesterday, I wrote this piece about people promoting the new book from Batya Ungar-Sargon and completely missing the point. It’s easy for people to share quotes from Batya about how the working class is getting screwed while they don’t do a damn thing.
I feel like I’m going insane because there is literally nothing stopping any of these wealthy liberals from downsizing their gigantic house and not traveling the world every five minutes, then using that money to help others. In the piece I wrote yesterday, I talked about how they could do the bare minimum by helping to promote the work of people who didn’t have the same opportunities as them.
So, if you’re sitting around with waiting for the government to do something, you’re wasting your time. And if you’re waiting for the day for “spreading awareness” by these rich people to actually do something for you, you’ll be waiting for an even longer time. Nobody is coming to save you, so how about we do something?
It’s Time to Face Reality
I spent about an hour this morning looking for this story about Jay-Z that I heard years ago that really inspired me. I couldn’t find it, and now I wonder if I actually heard that story, and even if I did, who knows if it’s even real. But even if it’s BS, think of it like Greek Mythology where it has a larger lesson even if it didn’t happen.
Basically, the story was that Jay-Z was a young, unknown rapper, and somehow he ended up in front of people at a record label in a meeting. He’s there to land a record deal, and the people in power ask him to rap for them to give them a taste. The friend telling this story in an interview says Jay-Z just sat there and looked at them as if to say, “You think I’m going to rap for you for free?”
Real or not, I love that story because it’s about taking back power with something so simple. In that situation, the record label seems to have all the power. The narrative we all believe is that the record label is doing an artist a huge favor by signing them and can make them famous. The reality is that the label needs artists or they don’t make money.
Now, I’m going to lay another hard truth on you. And if you’re an editor, book publisher, or employer, you’ll either want to leave now or get some thick skin real quick.
Alright. You still here?
The truth is that the people in power don’t know shit.
I warned you.
There is 0 evidence that the people in power know any better than the average person. If you think about it for even a fraction of a second, you’ll snap into reality. I can’t stress enough how badly you need to read Everything is Obvious Once You Know the Answer by Duncan Watts. Another good one is Hit Makers by Derek Thompson. While Derek is a journalist who discusses the research behind some of this, Duncan Watts is actually doing the research.
The story that’s in both of these books and many others is the story about JK Rowling. Harry Potter was turned down by multiple publishers, and I want you to sit on that for a minute and think about the people turning it down. These people make hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions each year because of this “skill” they have to pick the winners, and they passed up a book franchise that’s made JK Rowling richer than God.
Now, put that into perspective a little bit. How many book publishers are out there? How many movie and TV studios are out there? How many record labels are out there? If any of them had some magic ability to know what would be a hit, why are there so many flops?
Each year, thousands of books are released, and a fraction are bestsellers.
Each year, billions are invested in making movies and TV shows, and a ton of them lose money or get cancelled after a season.
Each year, countless albums are released, and most of them you’ve never heard of.
Each year, thousands of news and opinion pieces are published, and most of them will get an average amount of reads if they’re lucky.
Again, these people don’t know shit. If they did, they’d be richer than they even are. Instead, they’re paid enormous amounts of money to get lucky. Meanwhile, they are crushing dreams left and right by turning down all of the pitches for books, movies, TV shows, songs, and articles. These people are paid to live a lie that they have some special ability and exude the confidence that keeps them in positions of power. And if you haven’t heard of Philip Tetlock, you need to because he’s spent decades proving that most “experts” are terrible at predictions, and it’s proved time and time again.
“But Chris, I’m not making movies or writing books.” Yes, I know. So now, let’s get back to employers. Much like the people we’re talking about, employers don’t know shit either. Did you know that there’s been research that shows that CEOs actually have a very minimal impact on how profitable a company is? The reality is that you could swap them out with any other CEO, and the company would more than likely have done just as well. The inverse is true too. If a company fails, the CEO is blamed, and they usually have little to do with the results.
Let’s Take Back Power
And now, we come back to the main purpose of all of this, which is that it’s time to take back power. Nobody is coming to save you, so stop waiting. The people in power need you just as much (if not more) than you need them because they don’t know shit, so let’s do this.
I’m going to use some my personal experience for this final section, but I want you to think about what this means for you.
Since getting laid off, I’ve turned to freelance writing for some income, and I also have some other revenue streams from creating content. Something else I’m working on is a new book, and I’m going back and forth between whether I should self-publish again or work with a publisher. I’m someone who does a lot of research, and I’m appalled at what I’ve been reading.
And if you’re an editor or publisher and have made it this far, it’s about to get real again.
When I started doing freelance writing and pitching pieces to different publications, I kept hearing the same thing. “Don’t pitch the same story to multiple publications, they don’t like that.” And one day, I had an “aha” moment while talking with a seasoned freelance writer. I was telling her how much of a pain in the ass it is. They say not to pitch to multiple publications because they don’t like that, but 95% of the time, they don’t even reply to your email. Sometimes, the pieces have a good news hook, and with the news cycle moving so fast, you can’t wait forever. My “aha” came when she said, “Something I do is let them know that if I don’t hear back by a certain time, I’m going to pitch to other publications.” Excellent advice, but I had a flashback from losing my job.
Why the fuck are we trying to make things easier for these publications?
I am literally sending a freelance pitch email to people who have a full-time job with health insurance and benefits. They have a stable source of income, get to go to company parties, and take vacation days, but I’m supposed to be worried about what they like? Much like my former employers who held all the power and are fine, why should I care what they like and how they do things or what the “norm” is? On a daily basis, I’m fighting to keep my head above water while supporting my son, and I’m supposed to worry about them?
Based on what we’ve discussed, do you think any of these editors know which articles are going to be smash hits and go viral? Of course they don’t. For any editors who may be reading this, I mean this in the kindest way possible, and I know you have a job to do. But do you know how many pitches they turn down? With the ones they accept, how many do you think blow up? Not many. Much like the publishers who passed on JK Rowling, there are countless pieces these editors have turned down that went on to go viral somewhere else.
And don’t even get me started on the mediocre garbage they push through just because a big name is writing it.
Next, when I’m thinking about pitching my new book to publishers, it’s the exact same narrative. I’ve read dozens of books on writing, and when talking about working with publishers, 100% of them say, “Only pitch to one publisher at a time.” And again, I ask, “Why?”.
I don’t know why it took me so long to make this realization, and that’s why I wanted to write this piece that’s probably way too long. I want to share it with you so we can each individually start taking back power.
This is something I’ve known for years, but it didn’t translate to my writing career. Each of us have applied for jobs in the past, and because of my addiction, I’ve been unemployed and applying in the job market more times than I can count. Every time I’ve looked for work, I apply for every job I think I might not completely hate. When they call me for interviews, and even when they tell me I’m hired, I don’t stop looking for jobs. I honestly don’t stop applying for jobs until the day that I’m signing HR paperwork.
I’ve had people say, “But what if you get another job after the first place already offered you the job? Aren’t you worried about making them mad?” Absolutely not. I’ve had this happen before, and I’m polite and professional about it by saying, “Sorry, a better job opportunity came up.” It’s important to be professional about it just in case you need to apply there in the future. In my head, I’m thinking, “I don’t give a shit if I make them mad.” Do you think any potential employer loses sleep over not giving you a job?
The reason I love that possibly fake Jay-Z story because it’s an example of knowing your worth and taking back the power. That’s exactly what we need to be doing with employers and stop waiting around for legislation or workplace change if it’s getting out of hand. Earlier, I mentioned the Dish Network story from John Oliver and these people waiting over 10 years for the union contract after the vote passed. What the hell are these people doing? It’s been 10 years. Find another job. You have over 10 years of experience and a track record of loyalty, so fuck Dish Network. Leave.
As we speak, they’re calling it “The Great Resignation” because so many workers are quitting or going on strike. They’re taking back the power. Employers need them, and with the supply chain crisis, they’re taking the opportunity to show employers how screwed they are without good employees. And because of The Great Resignation, there’s never been a better time for you to demand a raise because there are an insane amount of job openings at other places. If your company has been treating you like shit and not paying you your worth, there’s another company dying to hire you.
Now, if you’re in a situation like me and write or create any type of content, you’re in an even better position.
I honestly could not care less if book publishers turn my book down, and I still don’t even know if I want to waste my time. It’s 2021, and I can self-publish my books. Book publishers are terrible at marketing books and often leave it up to authors. Most of them focus their resources on their big-name authors, so as a first-time author, I’d be doing most of the work myself. Most people only want to work with a publisher as a bucket list item or to brag to others, but book publishers are optional these days. I can create a list of thousands of independent authors who are making more than people working with publishers and have more notoriety as well.
And as far as my freelance writing, when I first started pitching out pieces, I’d get extremely butt hurt. It’s easy to take this stuff personally, but then I remembered that I don’t need them either. They need us. Right now, you’re reading this on Substack, and although it’s free, I could be charging a subscription fee and making money like many other writers. If I didn’t want to write on Substack, I could write on Medium like I’ve done before and made plenty of extra income over there. And if I didn’t want to write on any of these platforms, I could write on my personal blog and bring in Google Ad revenue.
So you don’t think I’m completely insane, I’m well aware that there are risks involved with taking back power. It’s important to discuss those risks because change doesn’t happen without risk, and maybe you’re not prepared for that risk. If you’re not, that’s cool, but personally, I’m more than happy to take that risk and hope others are going to start doing the same.
The most common risk is for workers. Retaliation is real in the workplace. I live in Las Vegas, Nevada, and this is a right-to-work state. If you don’t know what that means, basically, they can fire you for just about any reason they want. It’s another example of workers having no power. When I was 18 working at a Ford dealership, some mechanics wanted a union, and after the union busters came in and squashed it, the people trying to unionize were fired. This is extremely common around the country. Workers are either let go for arbitrary reasons that won’t get the employer sued, or they find a shady way to punish the workers to try and force them to quit.
If you do minimal research, you’ll find how difficult it is to even bring up the discussion of unionizing because people are so afraid. When you have a family to feed and are limited on alternative options, it’s important to be aware of the risk. But, as we’ve discussed, know your value and know that there are other opportunities out there.
Then, there’s the risk that I’ve taken into consideration when discussing working with publishers and editors at different publications. This is something that creatives need to consider in all areas because I assume this is similar for other industries like music, movie, and TV. The risk here is reputation. Reputation is a big deal, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Currently, the norm is to pitch and give exclusivity. Going against that norm can get people in the industry talking about how you’re “difficult” and don’t abide by their “rules”.
I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and I couldn’t care less. Something I learned when I got sober is that when you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up. You can’t subtract 0 from 0. I’m a nobody to book publishers and editors, and I’ve been able to make a full-time living from independent projects in the past. So, if word got around that I’m not playing by the rules that keep them with all of the power, it doesn’t affect me because I have options.
I’m not a dick about it, and I often use the strategy my friend recommended of giving them a time limit on exclusivity. But I’ve made that window smaller and smaller. This hasn’t happened yet, but if two publications want a pitch, I have the power. I’ll politely apologize to one and go with the other. I know that sometimes editors are busy and just don’t see their emails for 24-48 hours, and that sucks, but I’m not going to miss an opportunity waiting around and hoping they get back to me because so many of them never reply at all.
If, and it’s a big IF, I decided to pitch this book to publishers, I’m going HAM. I may document the experience, but I have a plan laid out if I decide to go that route. It’s going to involve a lot of communication, networking, and narrowing down potential publishers. If two want it, they can have a bidding war. If nobody wants it, that’s fine, and I’ll self-publish.
But, alas, this piece is about 10x longer than I expected, so I’m going to wrap it up.
I hope this makes sense about why you need to take back power and stop waiting around for things to change. The change starts with us, and nobody is coming to save you. The current norms give you 0 power, and to put it frankly, we need to have a little fucking belief in ourselves. You have skills. You have value. You’re the prize to be one. I don’t mean to get all motivational speaker on you, but I don’t know how else to inspire you to make this change.
There comes a point where these people aren’t taking power, but we’re giving it to them willingly. When we stop being so dammed afraid and know our worth, we get to decide who has the power. Most jobs suck, and most people in power don’t care about your well-being. Shift the power dynamic because these people need you.
And I’ll end with this. If you’re someone who hasn’t had power and by some act of good fortune, you become someone who holds the power, be better than them.
I’m telling you right now that if I ever become a business owner and one of my loyal, hard-working employees who has a family to think about needs to be let go at now fault of their own, I’ll do everything in my power to give them warning. Because right now, things are fucked, and they don’t need to be.
I’ve been working on organizing all the books I’ve read, and I have multiple lists of books on becoming a better thinker. There are lists for education, social issues, critical thinking, self-deception, and biases. For the rest of the categories, click here.
I’m always open for a conversation and to be shown what I might be missing or where I may be wrong, so feel free to email me at TheRewiredSoul@gmail.com